‘Alexa, Should The Public Trust Virtual Assistants In The Connected Home?’


Our homes have been invaded. Each and every day new, exciting and, in some cases, unnecessary connected devices (smart toothbrushes spring to mind) become available on the market which are designed to make our lives easier. We are in the era of connectivity and the future is already here. Predictions made in cult classic TV show "Tomorrow's World", such as touchscreens, personal stereos and even home robots, have already happened and many have become outdated. It is fair to say that the connected home is no longer a futuristic concept, it is a reality.

The most successful connected devices are those that make our lives easier (or as some may say, allow us to be lazier!) - coffee machines, fridges, ovens and cars. The concept is referred to as Internet-of-Things (IoT), but perhaps a better term to use would be the Internet-of-Your-Things. With 20.35 billion connected devices expected to be in use worldwide by the end of 2017, and predicted to increase to 75.44 billion by 2025, the IoT industry could prove to be very profitable for utility and telecom providers looking to capitalise on these new devices entering our homes.

We at SQS recently conducted research into consumer perception of technology in the home to help better understand the barriers to entry providers may be experiencing. Unsurprisingly, British adults have a strong interest in the concept of the connected home - 89 per cent of us agree that a connected home would make our lives more convenient. 49 per cent feel a connected home would save money on household running costs through the measurement and management of utility usage. So, there is clearly an appetite for connected home products in the UK. The issue, however, is trust and ease of use. Connected products must be secure and reliable, provide obvious benefits and be easy to manage and use, no matter our level of technical competence.

There are several problems in the connected home, and these problems need to be fixed now. Quite frankly, there are so many applications and innovative technologies entering the home it is creating a fragmented user experience, far removed from the simpler way of living promised by the ideological connected home depicted in 'Back to the Future'. As consumers, we are demanding a fully integrated solution to both monitor and manage their entire range of services and connected products through one central service provider.

Ready for adoption?

Many of us may feel dubious about one single provider entering and controlling their home at such an unprecedented level - think Hal from 2001: a Space Odyssey. Connected devices monitor our lives to provide a better, tailored service. We are willing to sacrifice a proportion of personal privacy in return for a technologically enhanced lifestyle, we must question the security of connected devices that hold our personal information. Contenders in the race to own the home must gain our trust now if they are going to succeed.

Our research proves there is the apprehension when it comes to the safety of connected homes; 43 per cent of us worry a connected home would be easier to break into than a standard home. 56 per cent fear that the control hubs for a connected home could be hacked into, preventing a further 48 per cent from buying them in the future. It is imperative that technology manufacturers calm this unease now if they want to venture further into the home.

The risks are now very different to those when the only connected device in our homes was a PC that used dial-up. A cyberattack on a modern connected home could potentially have dramatic consequences far beyond a negative impact on an organisation's reputation. For example, if a home with young or elderly residents reliant on a connected home hub to regulate heating and electricity was hacked, the loss of connectivity could result in serious illness. Cyberattacks are no longer just about an industry or an individual company, they are personal.

Strangers: keep out

Contending providers in the race to own the home must prioritise the need to address such safety concerns. Service providers must make a conscious effort to reassure us that any connected devices are safe and secure. Samsung is a brand that has already adopted this approach, understanding the importance of reassuring potential buyers, going so far as to include the message in their marketing efforts placing 'excellence in quality control' at its core.

To be in with a chance to 'own the home' providers must ensure that quality underpins not only the devices themselves - from conception right through to when the product enters our home - but also customer interactions, our personal data and ultimately our safety.

Let the race begin.

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